Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Food and service at comfy St. Boniface restaurant wildly unpredictable

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It's a charming place, with a pleasantly understated dining room on one side of the entrance, a comfy-looking lounge on the other and a pretty, greenery-sheltered patio in front. The menu is contemporary Italian and priced affordably, with pastas from $13 to $16, including soup and salad, and a few dinner entrees from $14 to $18, including salad and two sides. Chaise has almost everything going for it -- everything but food and service that (on four different tries) were so uneven I'm unable to recommend any particular dish with confidence.

There were some good choices, but satisfaction may depend on what you order, and when. If you're lucky, your hanger steak might equal the last one I had -- marinated in olive oil with onions and garlic, and perfectly tender and flavourful ($18). If you're not lucky, you'll get the flavourless, chewy steak of an earlier dinner. Ditto the three listed soups: savoury mushroom; creamy potato, kale and sausage; and the robust ribollita of bread, beans and greens in a savoury tomato broth, which were all lovely on one visit, but on another the ribollita was an unappetizing mess, with no beans, no greens, no bread and no savour in the broth.

Dining Out

Chaise Café

  • 271 Provencher Blvd., 204-504-4012
  • Licensed
  • Wheelchair access
  • Two and a half stars out of five

Some items are probably more reliable than others: the delicious roasted marrow bone, for instance -- split down the middle and topped with escargots, with crisp little crostini for the marrow ($12). Or the grilled caesar salad -- a wedge of romaine topped by capers, bits of salami and anchovy-flavoured crumbs ($6).

Judging by my flavourful thin-crusted pizza, topped minimally but tastily by pepperoni and black olives, the pizzas should be good bets. The toppings can be ordered either on pizzas ($14 and $15) or in calzones ($10 and $11). Both come with a salad, and the calzones include the thick house-made chips as well. For $2 extra you can add a poutine of those chips, with curds and good gravy, and which -- even without a trace of the promised candied bacon -- was delicious (missing promised ingredients was a recurring problem).

Some of the sampled pastas were pretty good. The puttanesca has been dropped from the menu -- a pity, since it was one of the better ones, zesty with capers, anchovies and olives. Spaghetti in a light lemon juice and white wine sauce with capers was tasteless on one visit, but tasty on another, even though there was very little of the promised spinach and none at all of the grana padano cheese. I might have liked the pastas more if they hadn't been tightly crammed into high, narrow bowls, with no room to breathe.

Five dinner entrées are served after 5 p.m., and my first dinner could only be described as a fiasco, a word I wouldn't use loosely or lightly. I liked the house-made rolls and the included salad. The brined, smoked pork belly entrée was tender and tasty and, although the mushroom risotto wasn't creamy or al dente (actually more like a pilaf than a risotto), it tasted good. But that was as good as it got.

As for the rest, I hardly know where to begin. The service was so inept our appetizers didn't come until almost an hour after we'd ordered them, and our cocktails at least 15 minutes after that, and only with continued pleading. Or with that poor first hanger steak. Or the fact they forgot our salads. Or that the only entrée of fish was unavailable. Or -- worst of all -- the "slow-roasted" quarter chicken, said to have been marinated in citrus, thyme and cloves, that turned out to be an unpleasant, rubbery, juiceless mass with no flavour whatever and nothing about it that suggested roasting. Adding insult to injury, it was perched on a huge bowl crammed with a gummy mass of pasta.

The otherwise good, thick-cut potato chips were over-salted to inedibility. Whipped potatoes were tasteless. They were out of the cauliflower au gratin, we were told (before six p.m., in an empty dining room), and only carrots were available, but then one serving of cauliflower did turn up without explanation and without flavour. And the problems with the service continued through a dinner that dragged out to over three hours. Some dishes were comped, and apologies were constant and profuse, both to my group and to other diners that night.

In fact, I felt that something had gone so catastrophically wrong I waited six more weeks to give the kitchen time to correct whatever it was that needed correcting. And six weeks later the service was immeasurably better. I had hoped the food would be too, but -- apart from the hanger steak described above -- it didn't rise above mere adequacy, if that. Three big, croquette-like risotto balls with bits of mushroom were longer on crunch than flavour ($4) and the pork belly appetizer, unlike the entrée of the previous dinner, was hard and dry, tasting faintly of smoke, and the bed of "velvety" polenta was grainy ($12).

The pan-fried steelhead trout was available that night, but with a slightly watery flavour and not a drop of the "decadent creamy dill sauce." It was at least edible, but it was a toss-up as to which chicken dish was worse: the unadorned one of the first dinner or the revised one of the second, which was still big, rubbery and tasteless (despite a thin streak of figs in the middle) with one surface charred almost black, wrapped in a minuscule slice of prosciutto, and cloaked in a totally incongruous tomato sauce. It too was served over lightly tomato-sauced spaghetti -- not an unappetizing mass this time, and actually, the best part of the dish.

Cauliflower au gratin was still tasteless and almost cheeseless; whipped potatoes were still bland; and sautéed red cabbage -- which might have been good -- was cold. Desserts look lavish and are OK, if not exceptional. The coconut cream pie was too dense, but a chocolate mint layer cake tasted good, albeit almost fork-proof.

Chaise may be loaded with charm, but charm is no substitute for substance and consistency, and both of those are in short supply.

marion.warhaft@freepress.mb.ca

To see the location of this restaurant as well as others reviewed in the Winnipeg Free Press, please see the map below or click here.

Restaurants marked with a red flag were rated between 0.5 to 2.5 stars; yellow flags mark those rated between 2.5 to 4 stars; and green flags mark those rated rated 4.5 to 5 stars. Locations marked with a yellow dot were not assigned a star rating.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 15, 2013 C5

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